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The infamous Round-House Kick, not least because so many people think it's something else. It is one of the three 'basic' Karate kicks.

The strike zone is the top of the foot and the attack is from the side. Mawashi means 'turning' or 'circular' in Japanese. There are two primary ways to perform this kick. Having been unable to find any authentic Japanese for these two methods I have had to resort to using my own terms:

The quick way
The foot describes a straight path to the side of your target, usually to about 1 foot or so to the side. On arrival the knee is slightly bent with your upper leg pointing either straight at, or to the other side of the target. The knee is straightened and the foot strikes the side of the target. When performing this technique, whether off the front or back leg, the leg that is on the ground must be turned about 90° or so in the direction that the kick will travel. This opens up the hips allowing more range and prevents joint damage. The final position of the strike (before returning to stance) should be similar to if one had started with feet together (eg Heisoku Dachi) and lifted one out to the side. If kicking off the rear leg this twist should occur as the knee rises, giving the kick a 'flicking' motion.

The powerful way
This version can only really be performed off the rear leg. It is also (thankfully) far easier to describe. The leg is launched round to the side describing a long arc all the way to the target. However the knee bends as the leg comes up so the foot travels up behind the knee. As the leg approaches the target the leg unfolds, catapulting the lower leg into the target with an almighty whack. Obviously this is more powerful, but the tradeoff (as usual) is speed. Again, the static leg must turn 90° to open up the hips.

In my experience (which, I must stress, is kinda limited) most clubs go for one of the above or the other. I've not seen both performed and recommended as alternatives. Usually it tends to be the latter, but the quick version is very handy and if you can comfortably get your legs up at head height then you can expect this kick to do you a lot of favours, particularly in sparring where it's points that matter and not pounds per square inch. Personally I like to teach my students to practice both methods and would recommend that you do to, if only because by practising the move you rarely use you'll understand better the one you always use.

As I hinted at the top of this writeup, many people who do not train in Karate think that the round-house is some kind of leaping, spinning, ninja extravaganza of frenzied ass wupping. It isn't. What it is is a very effective kick that can lead into a leaping, spinning, ninja extravaganza of frenzied ass wupping. The typical image most folks have of the humble Mawashigeri is that of the spinning Uru-Mawashigeri (Hook hick), or sometimes the jumping-spinning variation. Thus when some kid hears they're going to be learning the Round kick today they tend to end up a bit disappointed. There are two schools of thought on how to deal with this. The first is to show them a few spin kicks if they behave themselves and put some effort into their Mawashigeris. The second is to boot them around the Dojo using only proper Round-House kicks to teach them a little respect. I generally stick to the former method. More harmonious. Causes less legal problems.

OK you've read my drivel so I'll treat you to some mid-advanced ideas to play with:

(1) Make sure that the final arc that your foot describes is 'flat' - ie that your foot starts and ends at the same height and your knee is not pointing up or down. Nearly everyone who learns Karate 'cheats' with their Mawashigeris until someone sets them straight. The impact should be horizontal, not slightly upwards. Later when you are good, you may do this intentionally, but not until you have mastered the correct basic way of doing Round kicks. There are two things you need to be able to do good Round kicks. (i) You need good sideways flexibility - ie like sideways splits (not forward splits, that's for front kicks), and (ii) You need strong hip muscles so as to be able to lift and hold your leg up in the air. The former is attained through careful but determined stretching over the course of a few years. It's infinitely easier if you're a child, and slightly easier if you're a woman. But even middle aged men can improve their flexibility. I've seen it. The latter is good ol' fashioned excercise, but you've got to be specific - you need to work the correct muscles. Running and cycling etc are no good for this kind of thing. If you do a lot of swimming then try working on your breast stroke for a few months. This will help a fair bit. More ideally, do lots of Round kicks. And I mean lots. Round kick your way around the house. Round kick doors open/closed, Round kick your kids to and from school. Also Side Kicks. One other very effective method is to do that aerobics move where you lie on your side and life your leg up and down. Do this regularly everyday and you'll be laughing. Don't try to weigh your legs down with weight packs or boots though or you'll just give yourself massive thighs. What you want here is reps not weight training.

(2) Once you've got those thighs under control and you can hold your legs nice and high, practice getting those kicks onto target accurately and quickly. If you do 5 off each leg every day you will be surprised how good you get and how quickly you get it. This also goes for the other kicks, punches and blocks.

(3) Because the attacking phase of a Round kick (the knee straightening bit) is (relatively) horizontal, you are not fighting gravity and as such you can whip out several Round kicks in a single leg-lift very quickly. Practice doubling and tripling up Round kicks, both at the same heights and at varying heights. Also try adding Hook kicks and Side kicks into the mix.

(4) Finally (for now), experiment with different strike zones. Try striking with the ball of the foot or if you know what you're doing, the point of your toes (don't even bother unless you know how to safely kick with your toes, or you will break them). The shin is another excellent strike area because it's very hard and easy to hit with. Admittedly it can hurt like hell, but over time this will become less of a problem.

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